On November 26, 2008, the city of Mumbai came under a terrorist siege. It was a unique attack where the perpetrators came by the sea and used a combination of tools (gun-fire, bombs and grenades) to unleash terror. The terrorists were determined and remorseless and had pre-determined targets in mind. The 60-hour siege paralyzed India’s financial capital as the terrorists took over a Jewish centre, randomly attacked local train commuters, tourists at a popular cafe, the rich and famous at luxury hotels, and overwhelmed the local police force. In the aftermath, Mohammad Ajmal Qasab (one of the terrorists) was found guilty on charges of murder, waging war on India and possessing explosives.1
The 26/11 attacks on Mumbai were equated to the 9/11 of the US. Slogans like, “enough is enough” were voiced everywhere. The media went into frenzy; there was grief, candles, frustration, and helplessness in the air. On the second anniversary of 26/11, PM Singh said: “It is this spirit and strength of character of the Indian people that will defeat such forces that seek to threaten our social fabric and way of life. We will never succumb to the designs of our enemies.”
The siege of Mumbai was organized by a Pakistani militant group, which severely strained India's already tense relations with Pakistan.2 Three years later, it seems like the dust is settling down, as there seems to be a course of improving relations between India and Pakistan. In New York, India voted for the inclusion of Pakistan as a non-permanent rotational member of the UN Security Council. Pakistan obliged India by moving towards granting it MFN status. Also, the Pakistani military freed an Indian military helicopter that strayed into its territory by mistake during adverse weather. However, many people are pessimistic and consider these moves of Pakistan as hogwash. The collective sentiment is that Pakistan will not change its colours.3
On the other hand, the government of Maharashtra claims that Mumbai is now better prepared to deal with terrorist attacks as it has adhered to the majority of recommendations provided by the Ram Pradhan committee to improve security. Plus, it has created a unit of 350 commandos on guidelines given by the NSG. The unit has been in function with the latest weaponry and training by the Indian Army and foreign experts.4
While much was promised once the city regained its balance after the attacks, on the third anniversary of this horrific incident, still a lot remains unsaid and undone. For starters, across the border, there are anti-India sentiments floating in the air. The Pakistan government failed to avoid a protest rally organized by JuD on India being granted the MFN status. The 26/11 probe panel chief, Ram Pradhan states that the government has not contacted him in the past two years on the implementation process. Qasab is maintained like a VIP and a couple of crores have been spent on his upkeep. And the National Security Guards (who were the heroes that saved the day) still lack the infrastructure they need.
Even after countless research studies and reports, coastal security still remains questionable. In addition, India is yet to produce “credible evidence” to Pakistan for it to prosecute the planners. Plus, there is mounting tension in the wake of communications intercepts about another round of attacks being planned to mark the third anniversary of 26/11.
On a side note, Mumbai remains resilient as ever. Movies are being made on 26/11. The elites have gone back to being the celebrities that they are. To commemorate the third anniversary, days before 26/11, a peace rally was organized to pay tribute to martyrs and victims of the attack. The Anti Terrorist Front Chief commented that the purpose was to create awareness as Mumbai is and will be vulnerable to terror attacks.5
Tourism has been on a rise, nameless people shot to moments of fame by not celebrating the birthdays of children that were born on 26/11. The leadership model of the Taj Mahal hotel during the moment of crisis has secured itself a place at Harvard and the rest have a faint recollection of who the martyr Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was.
Still, at the third anniversary of 26/11, there are several unanswered questions.
1. Why do we just keep issuing warnings? Isn’t it time to act?
2. Why are we trying to be over-friendly at the cost of the lives of our fellow citizens?
3. Why is Qasab being given a trial, while Bin Laden was spotted and killed?
Despite living in the world’s toughest neighbourhood, it can be concluded that some measures have been taken to improve our abilities to deal with terrorism. The attacks on Mumbai did give us a reality check and we did put a positive foot forward. However, it is not sufficient as terrorist cells and threats continue to multiply.6 The anti-terrorist units created report a lack of adequate equipment. Plus there is a requirement for a robust system that will enable better gathering and sharing of intelligence.7 We should work on preventing strikes and not just preparing for them.